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Proposed federal workers’ comp changes; what’s your take?

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On Capitol Hill, members of Congress have had plenty to say about alleged abuse of the federal workers’ compensation program. Ricky Cook would like to offer a different view.

“I’m very upset at the perception that everybody who’s on workman’s compensation is abusing it,” Cook, a Federal Aviation Administration employee in the Kansas City, Kansas area, said in a phone interview this week. “That’s just not the case.”

Cook, who had been an air traffic control supervisor, suffered lasting spinal damage in an on-the-job accident in 2007. He was out of work for almost two years. Although the FAA eventually brought him back, his medication disqualified him from returning to his old position, so he’s now in a job paying a lot less and relies on workers’ comp to make up the difference. Which is why he’s concerned about a provision in Senate postal legislation that would eventually cut benefits for people in his situation from 75 percent of pre-injury pay to 50 percent. If that were to happen, Cook said, he might lose his home.

The bill passed the Senate last week; at this point, nothing comparable has gotten through the House. The original rationale for the proposed workers’ comp reductions was to lessen the incentive for feds to stay on the program long past normal retirement age. Some 2,000 U.S. Postal Service recipients are beyond the age of 70, while a half-dozen other federal employees are past the century mark, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said during the debate on the bill.

Collins has been leading the charge for change. Should the proposed benefit cuts in the bill become law, they would save about  $1.2 billion over 10 years, according to her office.  Although the legislation would grandfather in retirement-age beneficiaries already on workers’ comp, Cook, 46, is a long way from retirement.

So, there you have two sides. We at Federal Times would love to get other readers’ perspectives, particularly if you are or have been on workers’ comp.  Please email me at sreilly@federaltimes.com.

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Postal Service woes could undermine federal workers’ comp fund

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What happens at the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t necessarily stay at the Postal Service.

The latest example: A federal workers’ compensation fund could run out of money within three months if the cash-strapped mail carrier skips a $1.2 billion payment due in mid-October, according to the Labor Department.

The department runs the fund under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. Should the Postal Service miss the October “chargeback” for past claims, officials estimate that the program would have no money to pay any benefits during the last four months of fiscal 2012, running from next June through September, according to a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

BUT, the fund could have to halt benefits by late this November if the Postal Service misses its required payment and—as is considered extremely possible—the government begins fiscal 2012 under a continuing resolution. The reason is that Congress generally doesn’t appropriate enough money under a short-term CR to cover the cost of annual lump sum benefits, Brian Kennedy, the Labor Department’s assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs, said in the letter. On top of that, the workers’ comp fund wouldn’t have enough money to pay the vendor that processes medical claims under the compensation act, Kennedy wrote. His letter, dated Aug. 1, was first reported by Reuters news service.

So, will the Postal Service, which describes itself as effectively bankrupt, be able to ante up?  At this point, the answer is yes, spokesman Dave Partenheimer said today in an email. But in its third-quarter report released earlier this month, the Postal Service suggested it could  have “insufficient cash” to meet all of its federal obligations this fall, including the workers’ comp component.

The moral? To rewrite a famous line from English poet John Donne, no agency is an island. And for thousands of federal workers’ comp beneficiaries out there . . . keep your fingers crossed.

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GAO hunting for worker’s comp fraud

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Know somebody who’s scamming the government on a bogus worker’s compensation claim? The Government Accountability Office wants to know.

GAO is investigating potential fraud and abuse of the Federal Employees Compensation Act program. This could include people receiving worker’s comp who are supposedly unable to work, yet are holding down a second job. Worker’s comp cheats could also be overstating their claim or collecting benefits for a dead person.

Drop a dime by sending an e-mail to workerscompfraud@gao.gov. GAO said it will keep your information confidential.

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Collins asks GAO to tackle workers’ comp fraud

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on Tuesday asked the Government Accountability Office to start looking into possible waste, fraud and abuse in federal workers’ compensation benefits.

The federal government pays benefits to about 49,000 federal employees under the Federal Employee Compensation Act so injured workers can pay their bills while they recuperate. But Collins suspects many are gaming the system and continuing to receive benefits long after they should have retired or returned to work.

Collins began beating the drum about this issue at a hearing last month, when she said the U.S. Postal Service is paying workers’ comp to 132 employees who were at least 90 years old — decades after they should have retired. Three of those employees still getting benefits are 98 years old. In all, 1,000 Postal Service employees over 80 are getting workers’ comp benefits, Collins said. And it’s not just a Postal Service problem — some federal employees at other agencies collect benefits into their 100s, she said.

“I am increasingly concerned that individuals with no intention of returning to work continue to receive these benefits,” Collins said in a statement. “If recipients are gaming this crucial benefit at taxpayers’ expense, they must be exposed and the underlying program must be reformed.”

Collins asked GAO to audit FECA and find out how long people stay on the program, how many recipients receive benefits well past retirement age, and how the program compares to state workers comp plans. She also asked GAO to check workers’ comp records against the government’s list of deceased employees and payroll to find anyone who may be “double dipping,” or getting benefits and a paycheck at the same time, or who may still be receiving benefits after death.

A fed would receive far more money through workers’ comp than actually retiring, Collins said, which would provide quite an incentive to keep drawing FECA in one’s twilight years. And FECA doesn’t have any caps on how much benefits one can draw, or other cut-off periods, which Collins said makes it especially susceptible to fraud.

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